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Interview tips: Talking with participants during a usability test

Posted by on February 13th, 2014 Posted in: News, Practical Evaluation


The Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) conducts research and publishes information about user experience with interfaces. NNG was an early critic of the troubled “healthcare.gov” web site: “Healthcare.gov’s Account Setup: 10 Broken Usability Guidelines.” recent post (“Talking with participants during a usability test”) provided tips for facilitating usability tests that could be very useful whenever you’re facilitating a discussion or conducting an observation. When in doubt about whether to speak to a participant, count to 10 and decide whether to say something. Consider using “Echo” or “Boomerang” or “Columbo” approaches:

  • Echo–repeat the last words or phrase, using an interrogatory tone.
  • Boomerang–formulate a nonthreatening question that “pushes” a user’s comment back and causes them to think of a response for you, such as “What would you do if you were on your own?”
  • Columbo–be smart but don’t act that way, as in the “Columbo” TV series from the 1960’s and 1970’s starring Peter Falk.

The full article “Talking with participants during a usability test” provides audio examples of these techniques that you can listen to. You can find a large amount of additional information about usability testing on the Nielsen Norman Group’s web site, such as “How to Conduct Usability Studies” and “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability.”

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